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Why you need to invest in design

If you’ve worked on design-led projects, you probably already know the benefits of design. But what if you’re working in a business that has yet to embrace design thinking as a mentality?

Are you sceptical that it’s worth the time, effort or money? Some may think that good design is a ‘nice-to-have’ and not a ‘must-have’, but here we outline some arguments to prove it’s well worth the investment. Let’s start with understanding the role and impact of design throughout the user experience. 

Design concerns everything that could possibly influence the user experience, and it is usually led by the UX designer who oversees the process of a project or service development from start to finish. With a multi-faceted team, a UX designer deliberately designs components of a system or a product that influence the overall experience a user has with such a system. These components could include how information is structured, the “flow” of screens or the nature of a transition from one digital experience to the next. 

Portrait of the Design team

Designing the experience involves a large number of disciplines, including a researcher, a facilitator, an art director, a motion designer and a content creator, just to name a few. But in most companies, the roles usually come down to two figures – UX and UI designers. A UX role covers a bit of (sometimes a lot of) everything including business analysis, market communication, research, information design, wireframing and prototyping. 

As explained, UX doesn’t really build on one specific knowledge but requires more comprehensive skills and boundless views in both design and business areas. This proves to be a very useful attribute of designers who, especially as part of a smaller, early-stage team, can help adopt a well-rounded approach, covering a lot important aspects of the business. 

Crafting the experience

Great companies do more than just solve a problem: they create an experience around their products. Product teams need to adapt to this principle, or face the consequences. It’s important to develop a user-centric mindset. My phone is full of apps that not only do useful things for me, but also give me satisfaction when I need to use them. 

A real life example: Sometimes people will prefer a restaurant where the food is not excellent but the overall experience is superb, maybe for the view, or just for the good treatment or, in some edge cases, just because it is expensive. The experience itself, fitted for the customer’s need and current mood, can be key.

User experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator in many cases. That brand differentiation, driven by design, is one of the most valuable and defensible competitive advantages that a company can create for itself. But companies that fail to invest in these areas will find they’re soon overtaken by competitors who put users front and center when it comes to designing.

Designer – A Jack of All Trades

Whether it is worth hiring a designer or not is a pressing issue that a lot of companies face, especially in their early days. To a lot of people, design is a mere component of a project, for us, it is the essence of the project. In order to help you understand why this is the case, we further outline below some of the design thinking processes designers use, and how these become applicable during any product’s lifecycle.

Empathise 

The first step of any company that is looking to introduce a new product or service is to empathise with their users and understand the problem they are facing and the way they want it to be solved. As we mentioned in our previous article, empathy is one of the core skills a great designer needs to be equipped with in order to understand why decisions are taken, the reasons that drive an individual to want a product and the context in which they would use it.

As design thinkers, designers should try to imagine themselves in users’ environments, stepping into their shoes in order to gain a deeper understanding of their situations. We should always do our best to leave our own assumptions and experiences behind when making observations. 

Our life experiences create assumptions within us, which we use to explain and make sense of the world around us. However, this very process affects our ability to empathize in a real way with the people we observe. Empathy helps enhance the design team’s understanding of their target user and market, and to appreciate exactly what users need and want from the product. The first thing a lead designer will do is to talk to potential customers in the target market. By doing so, the designer gains better insights into the challenges users face as part of the research process of a new product creation.

Research & Define

This is highly related to the previous attribute, since more often than not, a designer with strong empathy skills is bound to be an effective researcher. Research, coupled with design, is the part where designers shape the product. “Why are we building this? How is it going to work? Who is the user? What have others done before? What comes next?” are all questions that are addressed by a designer at the early stages of a product’s design cycle – just as a new company asks those questions when defining their core value proposition.  

Most new products have low adoption because they don’t give compelling answers to the above questions. Good UX research is essential in the development of your minimum viable product because it illuminates what users care about and what features are not important. It also uncovers pain points where users are likely to drop out of the adoption funnel. 90% of all startups fail, and the biggest reason why they fail is a poor understanding of what the customer needs. In other words, they do a poor job of investigating users’ problems and behavior. A good designer will apply those research principles before diving into the actual design. They will utilise the insights that outline the wants, needs, and fears that the user has, and make sure to develop a solution that caters to those in the best way possible. 

Ideate & Prototype

One of a UX designer’s most valuable qualities, and at the same time, one of the things that could make or break your business, is that of wireframing and prototyping. By collecting the insights from the research, a designer will start ideating on possible directions, before moving on to the wireframes – 2D sketches of the interface, where we focus on space allocation and feature prioritisation. 

Once the wireframes are set, a prototype is developed. This is essentially a simulation or sample version of the final product, which is used for testing prior to launch. The goal of a prototype is to test products and product ideas before sinking lots of time and money into the final product. Once a draft of a product idea is in the hands of real users, you’ll finally see how they want to use the product, and you can then go back and adjust your initial guesswork. As long as it gives new insights into how people will naturally use the product, it doesn’t matter whether it’s paper, low-fidelity or high-fidelity, it has to reveal the functional side of the product perfectly. 

Test & Analyse

Understanding the demand for a product is quite a big challenge. It’s also where good testing starts. After analysing results from MVP, a good designer will apply findings and make decisions on features to prioritize. This might seem a very subjective and assumptive task, but having four users mention they don’t like the colors in the app doesn’t mean it should be approached with the same urgency as the three users that couldn’t confirm a payment. 

A good UX designer will use their knowledge of the users and their feedback during the testing sessions to adjust the priority of their grouped insights and reorder them accordingly.

All in all it becomes clear how the processes that are involved in design thinking, which are applied to every project by a good designer, are very similar to the processes that a startup, or an established company that wants to introduce a new product, should follow. Investing in design, and hiring one skilled person that can cover most of these processes, will definitely prove to be very much beneficial to your company during the product’s lifecycle. 

Proper Design will Save you Money

The agile way

Startups can benefit immensely from lean UX. Lean UX is designing, keeping in sync with the development team and in small sprints. For instance, if your website has some weak points that you aren’t happy with, then you don’t have to dump the whole thing, but rather pick out small parts and start working on its improvement in a lean way. The aim is to gather as many solutions as possible and opt for the best ones. Hypotheses and validation help know if we’re making products people want. That’s what makes the method lean. We have space to pivot and change.

However, not prioritizing UX from the beginning can lead to devastating consequences for your startup. Let this quote from Gilb sink in:

Here’s 3 simple reasons why: 

Time

At companies that invest in UX, products get released faster because developers spend their time on projects that need significantly fewer alterations. Lean UX focuses on quick and rapid solutions instead of months and months of development on a fully designed feature. Lean is iterative. Research and design move quickly and don’t require months to be delivered to engineering. Product owners, designers and developers are all involved in this UX process. Everyone has ownership of what they produce, making everything go much quicker than a traditional design development process.

Money

Research has shown that developers spend 50% of their time reworking projects. Look at that like this: 50% of a developer’s salary is wasted on fixing errors that a UX design process would have weeded out during an earlier iteration. That’s a lot of wasted money. Code defects are 30 times more expensive to correct than using the right information in the first place. It is extremely unlikely that these coding defects will occur if you choose UX design from the beginning.

Risk

UX is a quality measure. When you release a product or service that users love to use and that meets their needs, your business reputation will grow. Conversely, if you don’t get things right, your reputation will fall. Your product users are big contributors to your reputation. Remember, you only get one chance to wow first-time users and encourage customer loyalty. UX design increases user acceptance hence increases customer and brand loyalty. People like to purchase and recommend the product if it has a good experience. It will increase customer satisfaction & reduce frustration, thereby minimize the risk of business reputation. An effective UX minimizes risk by meeting user expectations in a way that minimizes user frustrations and builds trust.

A UX designer will improve your product’s performance

A design study of several different companies found that the more a company invested in and focused on design, the more sales they saw, the higher their customer retention and customer engagement was, and the faster they moved through their product cycles. All this simply because they kept UX design, and more importantly, the user, at the very core of their business.

Retention 

It is essential, but can UX design really help solve the challenge of user retention? Let’s look at the definition of user experience design, and you’ll see that it most definitely addresses user retention: User experience design is the process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product. As simple as that: better user experience boosts user retention. Always keep the user experience on your mind and your user will fall head over heels for your product. It won’t be easy, but having a good UX designer will certainly help.

Engagement 

Engagement is how people get value from the user experience on the site. Marketers can understand user engagement as the junction between getting a person’s attention and inspiring them to take action. The more engaged a user is, the more likely they are to return to the site and then to become ambassadors for your brand. If your visitors don’t engage, then don’t bother with goals. They’ll already be gone. When they hit your site, you’ve got roughly 3 seconds to let them know that they’re in the right place. If that’s successful, then you’ve got about 30 seconds to “hook” them. The secret lies in user experience and the consideration of how a website functions. Interactions stem from page elements and action flows that move from one page to the next. 

Good UX is good credibility 

Credibility relates to the ability of the user to trust in the product that you’ve provided. It will last for a reasonable amount of time and that the information provided with it is accurate and fit-for-purpose. Investors make investment decisions based largely on gut feeling and confidence in a product. If you’re an early-stage startup looking to raise capital, don’t underestimate the value of adding a UX designer to the team to make your prototype run smoothly and intuitively. Your product needs to bring the numbers investors are looking for. Without good UX, KPIs that we already talked about will below and it is not because your concept was not good enough but because it was badly implemented. Investors measure future ROI on KPI numbers so you better deliver profitable rates.

Every penny invested makes a vast return

Even if a company doesn’t commit 100% to becoming Design-led, a small investment in this area will lead to increased returns. Better return on investment will be a combination of factors, including lower cost of customer acquisition, lower support costs, increased customer retention, and increased market share. Here’s how a good, design-oriented approach can make your investment fruitful: 

  • Customers can more easily navigate a site and locate what they’re looking for
  • Customers who are happy interacting with a site are less likely to become frustrated or disengaged
  • The product has been created with the target audience in mind and then marketed to them, so the right people find the right products 
  • The process has been made as smooth and delightful as possible so that customers return and recommend

In-house designer or agency? 

By now, it should be clear that UX deserves a spot in your team as a new hire or as a good use of a design agency role. With a startup ecosystem where design is a must, it’s imperative that user experience design and testing are on any founder’s mind from day one.

Ideally, you’d be able to hire an experienced UX expert onto your team full time to guide you through the process of creating and testing your new product, or you can hire someone or a small team from a creative agency. 

In-house teams

When you hire someone in-house, they focus solely on your audience and your product, day-in, day-out. If they do their job well, this should lead to an accumulation of knowledge about your application, your industry, and your audience. But hiring an in-house designer is complicated and time-consuming, plus it’s expensive. But if you have the resources to hire the right people and the intention to build a long-term strategy, then hiring an in-house designer could be the right choice for you. 

  • Feels a sense of ownership towards your product
  • Has an in-depth understanding of your business
  • Does not necessarily contribute to faster & cheaper production

Creative agencies

When you hire an agency, not only will you work with more experienced professionals, but you’ll also work with a complete team. Plus, you’ll get strategic guidance from senior practitioners and leaders that less experienced designers can’t provide. Partnering with an agency can get you access to experienced UX designers who will complete your project with speed and expertise. The costs of working with an agency can be much lower as well. Of course, there are always drawbacks: hiring external talent won’t build internal resources for your organization and there’s always the danger of false promises and over-commitment. 

To avoid that, always make sure to look for these characteristics when you’re vetting design firms: a research-driven process, a team of UX specialists, not just graphic designers, a portfolio of UX design work and an experienced user experience practitioner. Some of the benefits associated with hiring an external designer or design team are listed below:

  • Breakaway from internal company politics
  • Taps into a continuous stream of fresh inspiration and perspectives
  • Brings a wealth of multidisciplinary experience and specialization that is hard if not impossible to cover with an internal team

Takeaway

Right now, the hottest hire in Silicon Valley isn’t a developer or data scientist. It’s a UX designer. Design is a competitive advantage as customers increasingly expect interactions to be intuitive right out of the box.

The quality of an experience can be the deciding factor between completing a transaction or giving up halfway, recommending a product to a friend, returning to a site or going to a competitor.

The code that powers these platforms is fairly simple to replicate. Instead, these companies have won on their user experience. They understand what customers want in terms of convenience, usability, and speed. UX testing, design, and implementation is now the most important aspect of creating a new startup.

Oszkar N.

Oszkar N.

Committed UX designer with an IT Business background. When leaving the cyber-world, I dedicate all my resources to my mountain bike and building my backyard as an MTB course.

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